Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tryfon Tolides: an almost pure empty poetry

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Jewish question and other links

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why I am not a white nationalist

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ian Smith: 1919-2007

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Five problems with Google Android

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Who the heck is Benn Steil?

This post has moved to the permanent location for Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug:

Monday, November 12, 2007 19 Comments

Nuclear neocolonialism: a formalist design for nuclear law

Formalism is the idea that conflicts can be eliminated by specifying their results in advance. The idea is that people seem to fight a lot less when both sides know what the outcome will be. As long as the obvious answer and the right answer to this question are both obviously the same, no one has any temptation to test the system, and therefore it is stable.

For example, you are in a state of precise internal formalism if, whenever anyone fights the law, the law always wins. Precise internal formalism is always desirable. It is the same thing sometimes known informally as "rule of law."

However, nuclear weapons are generally considered overkill in domestic situations. (BTW, what's up with Sarkozy? Wasn't he supposed to be doing something with some sort of German power-washing machine? Wiping the scum off the streets, like Travis Bickle? It's always pretty embarrassing for France when the Italians start to get ahead of her.)

Anyway, in this piece we are considering precise external formalism. This of course matches the old-school entity once known as the law of nations. Note also that the connection between Vattel and our present-day concept of international law is, um, quite attenuated.

However, we are considering neither the old law nor the new law. Frankly, we are not sure either can be described as an absolute and total success. And there is no reason why either should apply particularly well to the nuclear era. So it seems sensible to start from scratch.

The goal is a simple and stable system of rules in which neohominids are very unlikely to find themselves getting fried in their own homes and apartments. Even in a world where H-bombs of hellacious destructive power are getting easier and easier to make. (Frankly, it was pretty stupid to think that this technology, awesomely cool yea though it be, could remain a secret for the next umpteen gazillion years.)

For precise external formalism, our design goal is not to prevent nuclear war, but simply to predict its result. Will Nepal be able to annihilate Bangladesh, roasting Dhaka to a fine crisp, without any harmful result besides a dose of the West's usual heart-drippings? Or will vast burning clouds rise like new peaks in the Hindu Kush? (Frankly, you can't get too War Nerd with this stuff - no sane person can take it seriously.)

Under nuclear formalism, the goal of inspection is not to prevent, just to inspect. Nations manage their relationships according to their nuclear capabilities. This is basically how it works now, anyway. You just get it smeared with ponds of gooey self-righteousness.

So let's say West Bumfuck declares that it has a nuclear program.

Fine. We know all about you West Bumfuckers. Frankly, we're surprised you can stand on a box to snag a banana. And what can we say about your mothers? What can't we.

But you say you have a bomb. Okay. We are going to hire us some inspectors. (You will be paying for this inspection. Every cent is billed to you, O taxpayers of West Bumfuck. Our guys fly first class, and they expect good food. If you have any good food in West Bumfuck.)

Our inspectors will expect you to disclose the complete state of your nuclear program, which except for technical secrets they will forward to the public. Their goal is not to dissuade you from building bombs. It is just to understand your capabilities.

How many bombs do you have? What are your delivery mechanisms? Do they actually work? Etc, etc, etc.

The inspectors will certainly demand all kinds of testing. They will probably take your word for it that the warhead and missile actually work correctly in a single strike. You won't have to pick out a Polynesian atoll and nuke it from halfway around the planet.

But inspectors will want to see testing of both designs in a way that demonstrates that assembly is at least feasible. They will want to look at your entire production chain. And they will especially want to see where you got your gear from, if you didn't reinvent it yourself.

The idea is to eliminate uncertainty in nuclear conflicts, which is the most plausible cause of an actual outbreak of actual nuclear war. Gun nuts say that you shouldn't point a gun at someone unless you're ready to use it. They are trying to protect others from their own stupidity, but they are also trying to protect themselves: the less plausible it is to criminals that their victims won't shoot if they lunge, the less likely they are to test the proposition.

To make comparison easier, an inspection authority - which can be a private business - can define formal, standard levels of nuclear capability, which entrants to the nuclear game may try to achieve. Standardized capability levels let nuclear strategists think in simple categories about nuclear game theory. Since in a democracy, every citizen gets to be a nuclear strategist, simplicity counts.

Under precise external formalism, any formal system of rules for disputes between sovereign organizations (or sovorgs) with nuclear arms (note that the same model of inspection may, of course, be extended to conventional weapons) must take into account the relative military power of the sovorgs.

(Today's nation-states are of course sovorgs. At least, all are nominally sovereign. But there is no reason why relatively informal terrorist, mafia or guerrilla organizations cannot play the nucular inspection gameshow, although it is difficult to see how they can compete unless they at least control some substantial contiguous component of territory.)

The whole point of formalism is that formal law should match informal power. It is all very good to say what the law should be, but no law can enforce itself. Whether or not it is officially announced and precisely described, whatever gets enforced is the law, and whatever doesn't is just a bunch of bullshit.

It is pretty lame to have one system of law which is official, and another which is actually enforced. However, it does seem to happen a lot. Sometimes there are even reasons for it.

Speed limits in the US are a good example. There is a reason that speed limit enforcement in the US is discretionary. It allows cops to use their discretion. When this discretion is abused rather than used, as in the notorious Port Orford speed trap, we feel violated, as if we'd been ass-raped with a flashlight. (And we decline to eat in Port Orford ever again.)

But whether we like it or not, there is a use for discretion in domestic law enforcement. This is not true, however, in the law of nations. At least not under precise external formalism.

Precision is essential when designing rules which bind competing sovorgs. Your territorial waters may end at 200 miles, or 173 miles, or 389.2 miles, from your coastline. They have no good reason to end at "a couple hundred miles" or "farther than the eye can see" or "a safe and prudent distance."

When rules are imprecise, they may be interpreted differently by different sides in a conflict. This can confuse these sides into believing that they are acting in self-defense. Unless you are so stupid that you abjure self-defence, a condition in which there is simply no hope for you, you have to act. In most recent wars, both sides have held this perception.

In nuclear deterrence, imprecision is especially expensive. It can result in a nuclear exchange.

It is impossible and counterproductive to expect nuclear weapons to not be used for conventional deterrence. NATO itself used nuclear weapons for conventional deterrence. It is really difficult to castigate the West Bumfuckers as some kind of huge moral sinners - let's say they're Nazi racist cannibals who eat Jews for lunch, using their slaves as tables - for adopting the same nuclear strategy as NATO.

But if you use nuclear weapons for conventional deterrence, you have to have some kind of red line beyond which no attacker may go. While this line may be determined by an independent system of formal resolution rather than by you yourself, if it is not actually red, there is no point at all in having it. And if the line is defined imprecisely, an attacker may interpret as aggression what you interpret as self-defense. Thus both sides are acting in self-defense, the normal mental attitude in any state of war.

This is one essential engineering principle of nuclear law. The other principle has already been mentioned above: formal power and informal power should match. In other words, there should be no informal incentive to break the formal rules.

This is why we need formal nuclear performance inspections. With nuclear performance inspections, we can understand the informal game structure of any conflict between sovorgs. This allows us to devise formal rules which preresolve the conflicts.

For example, here is one simple system of nuclear law that relies on performance inspections. This design is conflict-free and nonproliferative. However, it is not politically correct.

First, there are two types of sovorgs, nuclear sovorgs and nonnuclear sovorgs.

Second, delivery is assumed, and inspection is as simple as possible: anyone who can test a working bomb is a nuclear sovorg. Inspectors define "working" by their own judgment.

Third, every nonnuclear sovorg must maintain an official affiliation with one, and only one, nuclear sovorg. The nonnuclear sovorg is the client of the nuclear sovorg, which is the protector. A nuclear protector and its affiliates are a nuclear bloc. Either the client or the protector may sever this relationship, for any reason, at any time.

Fourth, an unaffiliated nonnuclear sovorg, or total defector, has no protection. Anyone may conquer and retain it. If multiple forces make the attempt, they should try and agree on a partition beforehand.

Fifth, in all suits between nuclear and nonnuclear sovorgs, whether or not the latter is affiliated with the former, the nuclear power prevails in all disputes except those solely affecting the territory of the nonnuclear sovorgs, in which case the nonnuclear sovorg prevails. Essentially, a nonnuclear sovorg controls its borders, everything inside them, and nothing else.

Sixth, all suits between nonnuclear sovorgs within a single nuclear bloc are judged by the protector. All suits between nonnuclear sovorgs in different blocs are judged by arbitrators appointed by agreement of both protectors. The same is the case for suits between nuclear sovorg, which hopefully will be rare.

Seventh, no nuclear sovorg allows its territory or the territory of its affiliates to be used for the planning or preparation of military attacks against any other sovorg, noting only that this rule cannot be invoked to demand any restriction on free expression.

Eighth, missile defense systems are prohibited, until they can be made as reliable as missiles. If this technical assessment changes, this rule should be revisited, but any missile defense system should be a joint effort between all nuclear sovorgs, designed only for total defectors.

It should be clear that anyone who feels the need to break these rules is a major psycho, and needs to be suppressed or at least contained by any means necessary. The idea of asymmetric war - a war in which different sides play by different rules - is one of the sickest jokes of the twentieth century. If you could explain this concept to Emerich de Vattel, he'd be retching for hours with awful, agonizing laughter. Washcorp can stop playing this game any time it decides it's done.

It should also be clear that this design is antiproliferative. A nuclear protector has absolutely no incentive to allow its clients to go nuclear. It would lose a customer and gain a competitor.

Therefore, it will require that any client which does not have a nuclear program be prepared to prove it. And it will sever its ties with any client which does not comply. Presumably the latter will happen in time for the client to be devoured, like a shark in the shark tank, by its local competitors. Perhaps with some military aid from the protector if absolutely needed. If the rogue sovorg is to find another protector, it will face exactly the same ban.

Nuclear powers will also place golden handcuffs on their nuclear scientists, paying them like rock stars and placing restrictions on their movements and communication. There is no reason to do otherwise. Not all scientists will accept this bargain, but enough will.

Note that this system of nuclear law does not come with any transition plan. There is no obvious way to get from here to there. Perhaps it involves blowing some shit up, though, which would definitely be cool. (It's hard to escape the feeling that the postwar West is suffering from a serious case of progressive miliphobia.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007 6 Comments

Pakistani emigres on the Musharraf question

Ali Eteraz in the Grauniad. The swarthy folks at Sepia Mutiny.

Ali Eteraz:
There is a segment of Pakistan - which includes the judges, lawyers, and journalists - which wants to take to the streets. They have dominated the news over the past year and they want to make a democratic push, with some people casting the lawyers in the same role as the Burmese monks. However, Musharraf's shrewd move of setting forth a limited PCO - targeting only the judiciary and leaving the assemblies intact - has neutralised this segment of the population. The illusion of popular participation is retained, while Musharraf's most vexing political opponents - the judges - get sidelined. If he had gone further and cancelled elections, it would have ignited a firestorm, but in his talk to Pakistani public (discussed below), he assured that he would do no such thing.

Disengaged western audiences, pumped full of the current pro-democracy intoxicants, will almost universally decry Musharraf's behaviour. I decry it too, precisely because I am a disengaged westerner and I have that luxury. However, the story in Pakistan is not so straightforward.

What I am being told by bazari merchants, some young professionals, and some industrialists in Karachi and Lahore is that they merely care for stability, whether it comes in the form of the military, or in the form of democracy. Incidentally, many of them believe that it is Musharraf who is more likely to assure that stability. A couple of people, with middle class businesses, suggested to me that Musharraf should behave more like a dictator; a secular version of the previous Islamist dictator, Zia ul Haq, in order to assure stability for business and economic growth. However, that is a minority view.

The democratic push in Pakistan is not some sort of romantic affair pitting slaves against a demonic genocidal Stalin. Musharraf made his errors (like the Red Mosque fiasco and the disappearances linked to the War on Terror) but he is not homicidal. Cinema, music, the arts and freedom of press are thriving in Pakistan. The popular satire programme - "We are Expecting" - has a regular character mocking Musharraf, which does nothing more than grunt and proclaim "Yes!" in a loud voice.

Musharraf has, in fact, helped the Pakistani economy and business, admitted even by democracy-promoting analysts. Until this year, when the democracy push struck, construction projects were booming and money from Dubai was pouring in. In fact, a study published by the anti-military newspaper, Dawn, showed that: "Nonetheless, in the eight year period since the latest take over by the military, the size of the economy increased by almost 50% and that of income per head of the population by nearly 25%."
Sepia Mutiny commenter chachaji:
He allowed almost unprecedented freedom of expression both in electronic and in print media, all after 1999, and far and away much more than anything Pakistanis had known under either of the Bhuttos or Sharif. In 1999, for example, Pakistan had a single TV channel, PTV, today it has dozens, and several very good political talk shows, which are in fact better than Indian, or for that matter American political TV talk shows. These have actually been responsible for the high expectations of political and civic life that educated Pakistanis have now come to have. The quality of journalistic reportage and editorial comment in Pakistani newspapers is also very good, and has improved substantially during his regime.

And BTW, at an individual level he is smarter by far (like two standard deviations smarter) than Sharif and Benazir put together, and he is certainly at least twice as articulate as they are, and communicates extremely well, both in Urdu and in English. Even more, his grasp of geopolitics and international macroeconomics is at least five times as good as that of Benazir and Sharif. He's nobody's fool, and for a dictator, his tolerance for personally directed criticism exceeds that of any other comparable political figure, across continents and political systems. And as I said earlier, all the repression he has let loose so far is quite tame by South Asian standards, even by Indian standards. Let's give the man some credit.
SM commenter Kush Tandon:
Chachaji, I must give you that, you are one of the few commenters on this thread who knows about what they are talking about. Ikram also knows quite a bit. You are right Musharraf did not dissolve their legislative bodies.

Musharraf is not going anywhere, America needs him, most of the Pakistani middle class needs him. It is true that he seen as a "traitor who sold his soul to West" by lot of people on the street, and that puts him in a very tight spot. It is Zia-ul-Haq's changes in Pakistanis society that is becoming somewhat a problem.

BTW, Human Rights Watch is a bunch of mostly suits from NYC who collect newspapers cutting like a high school sophomore does for their scrap book. They run like headless chickens, who talk what $500/ plate dinner parties in NYC want them to hear, there is absolutely no indepth analysis or sometimes even common sense. They are not Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernsteins of human rights.
There are plenty of opposite voices on the Sepia Mutiny thread as well - you can pick your own side.

Half Sigma goes large

The words "epochal" and "stunning" come to mind. Congratulations, HS.
I assure my new readers that I am neither a skinhead nor a white supremacist living in some compound in Idaho stocked with survivalist gear. I am an over-educated professional living in Manhattan.
The Times article is here. Congratulations also to Amy Harmon. I spend a lot of time ragging on the Polygon, but Gorbachev or Deng types are always, always welcome.

Update: Larry Auster's take. "With all due respect to the book of Ecclesiastes..."

Friday, November 9, 2007 40 Comments

UR's advice for President Musharraf

Since it's never nice to criticize without offering positive suggestions, here's what I'd do if I were President Musharraf.

One, abolish the Pakistani constitution. Don't suspend it - abolish it.

I am not a Pakistani. Nor am I closely familiar with events in Pakistan. But it strikes me, just on a casual perusal of the papers, that if your constitution were a nuclear reactor, it would be Chernobyl. If it was a bassist, it would be Sid Vicious. If it was a ship, it would be the Edmund Fitzgerald. Etc, etc, etc. While a leaky reactor, a homicidal rhythm section, or an overloaded ore carrier are not exactly things you want in your living room, each one beats the hell out of a malfunctioning constitution.

And do you really want to go in there with a wrench? Just toss the thing. History is littered with discarded failed constitutions. The failure of the Pakistani constitution does not reflect in any way on the residents of Pakistan. It reflects on whoever wrote the Pakistani constitution. In fact, it doesn't even reflect on them. It's an engineering failure. It happens.

Two, abolish politics in Pakistan. Politicized democracy in the Indian subcontinent has failed. Its record is murderous at worst, criminal on average, and disgraceful at best. Your present enemies are not in any way, shape or form atypical. Except of course that the Soros people have done so much for their PR.

Here is how to abolish politics: involuntarily retire all Pakistani judges, journalists and editors, teachers and professors, NGO employees, and politicians. Pardon them fully and unconditionally for any crimes they may have committed. In fact, award them half-pay pensions for their service to Pakistan, which was counterproductive but often sincere.

Seize and permanently confiscate all media and publishing firms in Pakistan, all party buildings and funds, all private schools and universities, and all nongovernmental organizations. Abolish the parties permanently. Reorganize and rename the schools and universities, confining their mission to science and engineering. Import Western or Western-trained scientists and engineers, at competitive salaries, to bootstrap university departments. Put army officers in charge of the NGOs, and handle them case by case.

Invite any Pakistani entrepreneurs who feel sympathy with the old regime to join this purge. They can sell their companies to the Pakistani state for their full present market value. You can pay for this by printing money - cancelling the proceeds when you reprivatize the company will equalize the inflationary balance. Let anyone who is considering selling know, however, that the offer will not be repeated.

Three, expel all Western official journalists, and imprison or expel (their choice) the stringers. Make any contact with the Western official press illegal.

Pakistan is a modern, civilized country. Or at least many parts of it are. It is not North Korea, it cannot be turned into North Korea, and it should not be turned into North Korea. Pakistan cannot be made opaque to the West.

However, the West can be compelled to get all its news from Pakistan via the Internet. There will be both pro-military and anti-military Pakistani bloggers. Some of them may even be the journalists you have just retired. This is totally fine and normal.

Except inasmuch as they are directly organizing violence, demonstrations, rioting, etc, do not interfere in any way, shape or form with bloggers. Censorship is difficult to reverse, because when you lift a system of censorship, you look weak. And when you impose censorship, you also look weak. So you get it both ways, as we say in San Francisco.

In fact, it might be a good idea to run official contests for the best supportive, neutral, and dissident blogs, using independent judges and awarding fat prizes. Your goal is to create a situation where anti-government intellectuals have nothing to complain about except the fact that they are not in charge of the government - and in which this fact has no conceivable prospect of changing.

Once this is achieved, your enemies can blog up any kind of storm, without threatening the state in the slightest. As Bismarck put it: "they say what they want. I do what I want." This was probably not really true for Bismarck. But there's no reason you can't make it true for you.

Four, declare independence from the West. Starting now, politely decline all aid, military or financial, from any Western country. You won't be able to buy Western-quality arms or parts anywhere, but you can get stuff almost as good from Russia and China.

Follow Putin's lead in prohibiting any financial traffic or organizational affiliation between any Pakistani organization and any non-Pakistani, except of course for genuine commercial or financial links. The NGOs are your enemy. There is no way to buy them off. It's them or you.

Five, announce that you will respond to any invasion of Pakistan with a nuclear strike on Delhi. This is known to be within your plausible power. It is sufficient to deter the West. And it will not strike Westerners as aggressive, except possibly toward India.

Make peace with India by unconditionally accepting the status-quo Line of Control in Kashmir as the permanent international border. Open talks on the technical details of normalization.

For your new nuclear posture, your objective is defense against any adversary with stronger conventional and nuclear forces. Declare that your standard response to any sustained infringement of Pakistani sovereignty will be to destroy one foreign city, perhaps Delhi although anything big will do, then surrender unconditionally.

The key to this strategy is that it is plausible - an attacker has no good reason to doubt that you will follow through. The goal is not to win a war, but to prevent one from happening. The adversary has to decide which he prefers: (a) the status quo, or (b) the status quo, plus ownership of Pakistan - but assuming the destruction of one city. Ideally his own, but any hostage will do.

In my humble opinion, as long as Pakistan is not itself behaving aggressively, there is no superpower on earth today that would even consider considering (b). Perhaps such a power is conceivable. But it is hard to conceive, given how demented its rulers would have to be.

Six, crush the Islamists. Give any armed organization on Pakistani territory thirty days to disarm and surrender, flee the country, or be destroyed by the Pakistani Army. You are equally amenable to all of these options. Offer unconditional amnesty to all rebels who surrender within this period.

Require all Islamic schools to register, and all Islamic teachers and scholars to be licensed, by the State. Prohibit them from promoting violence. Pay them for their good work.

Fortify the border with Afghanistan, sealing it except for border posts, until further notice. The Americans will be really pissed at you for a while, but they are not utterly stupid, and they will be happy with the results. Suggest that the Americans add their own layer of fence, so the border will be double-sealed, and allow them to do this with Pakistani labor if needed. There is no good reason to allow informal pedestrian traffic across the Durand Line.

Seven, for extra credit, declare that the future of Pakistan looks like Dubai, only better. Not all Pakistanis have been to Dubai, but they pretty much all get the idea.

You can get a leg up on Dubai by converting Pakistan into the world's first sovereign corporate republic. An SCR is a little like the monarchist structure used in the UAE, except that it works even better. It's a government design that should be at least as efficient as any modern Western corporation. It is designed to be invulnerable to any kind of systematic corruption. While the thing has never been tried and its success may be debatable, the SCR design certainly scales much better than the old medieval family-business approach.

In my humble opinion, a Pakistani SCR will make Dubai look backward. Your goal should be nothing less than a new equivalent of the Mughal period. Westerner tourists should be astonished and envious when they see Pakistan, as they already are in Dubai. Except more. The region now Pakistan was once one of the jewels of the world. It can become one again.

Any Pakistani SCR must start with a single initial owner: the Pakistani army. At present, this is unavoidable, because the army holds all physical power in the country. Formal and informal power should always be identical. However, military rule is not a desirable structure over the long term - not for the military, and not for anyone else.

Therefore, the army should convey ownership of the Pakistani corporate republic to its own officers (active and retired) and soldiers, distributing shares by rank and seniority. Whatever this distribution, it must be final - there are no further automatic dilutions. All new hires are just employees, whatever their rank.

A state, like any organization, is stable and efficient when those who own it are those who control it. However, this does not mean the owners and the employees must be the same people. If agent (employee) and principal (owner) can separate, the state will be much more stable and much more efficient. Owners need not even be residents of Pakistan, although this restriction should be retained for the foreseeable future - the twentieth century is not dead yet.

But in principle, any geographical pattern of residency among sovereign owners is undesirable. For maximum stability in a corporate republic, shareholders should be distributed around the financial world. Thus, there is no method by which a subset of shareholders can benefit themselves, and only themselves, by using their voting power to induce the republic's managers to mismanage it in a way that produces selective profit.

Selective profit exists whenever a corporation's dividends are not distributed formally and equally among its shares. Selective profit is always and in every case corruption. If a company favors one subset of shareholders, or of creditors in general, in any way not contractually specified, it is corrupt. ( The other general form of corporate corruption is agency profit, in which employees abuse their power of agency to skim off cream which should be going to the principals. Agency profit in governments is much better understood.)

Since selective and agency profit are generally (contrary to popular belief) rare in the Western corporate world, they should be equally easy to defeat in a sovereign corporate republic. Pakistan today has a reputation for corruption. In an SCR, this reputation will adhere to its proper target - the old constitution. The goal of any newly established SCR is to move to #1 on international transparency rankings, and stay there.

Eight, for serious extra credit, create at least one special economic zone whose currency of both exchange and accounting is gold. You may be surprised at how many people this annoys, and how much it annoys them. You may also be surprised at how profitable it will be for Pakistan.

To be precise, a 21st-century gold standard implies a 100%-reserve banking system run on the principles of Austrian economics, with strict maturity matching on all loans of any kind. This is not unlike certain interpretations of Islamic finance, and perhaps the point could be finessed.

Transitioning from a fiat currency to a gold standard is tricky. It's not unlike landing a plane. There are many ways to do it wrong, and one way to do it right. However, once the problem is solved correctly, it remains solved indefinitely.

And, at least if the Austrian analysis is correct, it is very clear that the first sovereign state to succeed in the transition will have at least the option of becoming the new financial capital of the world, as London was in the 19th century and New York for most of the 20th. You might want to talk to Benn Steil - I bet he has some ideas for how to pull it off.

(Update: please see the comment thread. There are many interesting discussions. I promise that I will actually answer questions in a reasonably prompt and diligent manner!)

Thursday, November 8, 2007 17 Comments

Musharraf's rebellion, or: how to read a newspaper

Sometimes history just serves you up really juicy examples.

Days when the papers are this easy to read are rare. They are not complex and must be drunk young, like a Beaujolais. In Campagna they say a mozzarella di bufala is over the hill after sunset on the day it's made - and some say afternoon. I suspect this post will be obsolete at most within the next month. But it might be tomorrow.

But with that caveat: today there are a couple of cute articles about Pakistan in the WSJ.

These articles don't actually tell us what's going on in Pakistan. In fact, they are active, if quite unconscious, attempts to mislead us about what's going on in Pakistan.

But this is just the art of reading a newspaper. The newspaper's adaptive goal is to persuade its readers, who include you, to adopt some perspective on the subject of Pakistan. Without in any way adopting, or even considering, this perspective - frankly, why should it be worth considering? - we can understand Pakistan by understanding the effect that the text is designed to have on its unwary reader. Of course we also need to know who wrote it, and why.

And first, we need some background about what's going on in Pakistan.

There are three factions fighting for power in Pakistan today: the Islamists, the civilists, and the army. The Islamists are too well-known to describe. The civilists are basically the Soros people, the "civil society" types, lawyers, judges, journalists and politicians. The army is the Pakistani military: Musharraf and his people.

The basic plot of the story is that Musharraf is rebelling against Washcorp. His motivation for taking this step is that he believes that if he doesn't, he will end up either exiled, dead or in prison. In my opinion, this perception is accurate.

These events are taking place now because of the weakening of the Pentagon and White House faction, the neoconservative defense hawks, who have controlled the US military since 2001. This weakening is a natural consequence of the fact that the Bush administration is timing out, a normal structural phenomenon in Washcorp power politics.

Neocons are really best described as retro-Universalists. Their great dream is to try to restore a kind of faded 1950s vision of Universalism. There is no possibility of success in this effort. But they certainly can keep themselves employed by trying.

As for their neo-Universalist adversaries, the Polygon proper, there must be some avian mascot that fits the bill. But it is certainly no member of the pigeon family. I have a pair of semi-tame ravens that come regularly to my deck for peanuts, which I've taught them to catch in the air. I think the Polygon's bird has to be some kind of corvid - the only real question is whether it's a bluejay, a crow, or a raven. For now I'll stick with the last.

When the hawks were strong, they could afford to protect Musharraf. Weak, they forced to sacrifice him. Thus the neoconservative near-unanimity on the subject, with only a few dissenters. Many neocons can still stomach ol' Mushy, but they are politically unable to afford to avoid attaching their John Hancock to a demand for elections within three months.

While this is a ludicrous demand, it creates a point of bipartisan unanimity within Washcorp, and all major players in the postwar period automatically defer to any unanimous demand of Washcorp - whose internal structure they understand far better than the average Plainlander.

(For example, if you read the Tiananmen Papers, which narrate the decisions of the leaders of China during the Tiananmen Square incident - there is some debate over the authenticity of these documents, but if they are not real they are a very convincing fiction - the Chinese Politburo and Elders receive and read not a daily summary of State Department communiques, not of Pentagon press releases, not of White House statements, but of the Western press. And access, as they always say, is power. The modern official press is a coordination signal orders of magnitude more reliable than any other diplomatic channel.)

In any case, the Pakistani army is primarily aligned with the Washcorp hawks, and the Pakistani civilists are primarily aligned with the Washcorp ravens. The Islamists, of course, have no alliance with any Washcorp faction. At least, no direct alliance.

Therefore, the events in Pakistan follow the usual pattern of Western colonial proxy wars. The two factions struggling for power within Washcorp nurture and support corresponding Pakistani factions. The provincial struggle is often a bit more rowdy. But it exists solely because of the invisible power struggles within the Beltway. We can therefore use events in Pakistan as a sort of amplifier to help us observe the delicate game in Washington. (Think of it as a sort of Beltwology.)

In terms of Pakistani politics alone, however, the structure of the conflict is simple. The army is side A, presently dominant. The civilists and Islamists are side B, presently subordinate.

(Yes, I am aware that this is not the conflict as we normally hear it described. That's kind of the point. As usual, the only way to test an alternate analysis is to simply adopt it, at least rhetorically, work within its context for a while and see how generally true it rings.)

If side A loses, it can only lose decisively. After all, it's the army. The resulting fight will be between the civilists and Islamists. The Islamists will win with a first-round knockout, the civilists and the top rung of the officer corps will end up exiled, dead or in prison, and the rest of the army will be subordinated. The Islamist-army alliance of the '80s will be re-established, probably in a more virulent form, and Pakistan will become an open ally of Iran.

If side A wins decisively, the Islamists and civilists will end up exiled, dead, politically irrelevant or in prison. If side A wins weakly, the outcome is effectively a draw (as the IRA used to say, "we only have to be lucky once"), the conflict will continue in its present state indefinitely, and Pakistan will remain unstable. The army has been forced to roll the dice, however, because of its weakening as the result of trends within Washcorp.

Obviously, the outcome I prefer is the middle: decisive victory for side A. If you disagree with this result, either you do not agree with the decision analysis, or your position is objectively hostile to Pakistan. (Which is totally fine, by the way. Not everyone has to be friends.)

Note that there are no pleasant outcomes for the civilists in this decision tree. This is normal for those who accept the role of shills, puppets and collaborators. Quislings can always be found. The ugly fact is that the civilist movement in Pakistan is basically a criminal mafia. Or, more precisely, a consortium of several criminal mafias. It is fundamentally corrupt and utterly irredeemable. I'm quite confident in saying that nothing good will ever come of it.

For example, read this article by one Jemima Khan about Ms. Bhutto.

Now isn't that interesting? Who does that make you think of? Well, obviously, one name looms large: Michael Corleone. But for anyone who's seen The Departed, as I just did (I'm afraid this is what I'm supposed to say, but Infernal Affairs really was much better), there is another figure: Whitey Bulger. Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed is an obvious impression of the notorious Mr. Bulger.

But wait - who is Jemima Khan? How do you get a name like "Jemima Khan," anyway? For those too busy to follow the links, Jemima Khan is a British socialite who happens to be married to cricket star and Pakistani politician Imran Khan. Who happens to have been arrested the other day. One suspects Jemima does not approve. But one also suspects that her motivation for informing Telegraph readers about the true nature of Ms. Bhutto and her "party" is slightly less than altruistic. It's not a rose garden out there, kids.

We are now prepared to read the first piece in the WSJ - an op-ed by one Husain Haqqani.

It's important to note that the back two pages of the A section of the WSJ are composed by an entirely separate organization from the rest of the paper. Call them WSJr and WSJl. WSJr is a reliable indicator of official neoconservative doctrine, inasmuch as any such thing exists. WSJl is one of the most orthodox Universalist newsrooms in Washcorp. The fact that the two are sending more or less the same message makes the Pakistan situation unusually easy to understand. Which is why it's so like a good Beaujolais.

Anyway, Mr. Haqqani is, as a little note at the end of the piece informs us:
director of Boston University's Center for International Relations and the author of "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005). He also has served as adviser to several Pakistani prime ministers, including Ms. Bhutto.
This is a ripe, rich turd in a suit. A mob lawyer, an abettor of thieves, a peddler of lies. In a decent world, this man would be in prison. Here are his words, in WSJr, 11/8/2007. The whole piece is priceless, and I have quoted it all.
Pakistanis Say No
By HUSAIN HAQQANI
November 8, 2007; Page A23

When Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan's Constitution, declared a state of emergency and put the nation once again under martial law, he expected limited civilian resistance and only ritual international condemnation, in view of his role in the war against terrorism. On both counts, Mr. Musharraf appears to have badly miscalculated.
Translation:
You've fucked with the wrong people. Now, we're going to fuck you.
(Note also how Haqqani declines to use General Musharraf's title. I'm not sure of the Pakistani military etiquette on this. Perhaps it's not quite as serious as pissing on his mother's grave.)

More Haqqani:
Pakistan's burgeoning civil society, led by lawyers and encouraged by judges ousted from the Supreme Court, is refusing to be cowed.
Translation:
Your time is over, you little Pentagon poodle. Quit while you still can.
Haqqani:
Protests are spreading despite thousands of arrests and the use of tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.
Translation:
Your pathetic "policemen" will never dare to resist our vast rent-a-mobs. They don't even have the guts to shoot - let alone keep shooting.
Haqqani:
More than 1,700 attorneys have been jailed but still more are taking to the streets. University students have joined the lawyers, and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has vowed to violate a ban on public meetings by leading a rally on Friday.
Translation:
Look - Rupert Murdoch has donated the top of his op-ed page to help us whip our mobs into a frenzy of lawless street violence. You have no chance, buster. None.
Haqqani:
There are a number of important reasons why Pakistan's attorneys are leading the protests against Mr. Musharraf. They have a long tradition of activism for rule of law and human-rights issues. In 1968-69, the lawyers started the campaign that resulted in the ouster of Pakistan's first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. They also were at the forefront of the campaign against Mr. Zia-ul-Haq, whose 11-year military rule ended when he died in a 1988 plane crash.
Translation:
Our trained lawyers have been scheming for power since you were in short pants. They're pretty good at it now. Isn't it time you clicked over to Orbitz.com? Flights out of Islamabad are pretty crowded this time of year.
Haqqani:
The legal fraternity has another advantage, in that they can afford to confront the government without fearing starvation for their families. Some 65 million of Pakistan's 160 million people subsist on less than $1 a day, while another 65 million survive just above the poverty line. The poor are willing to participate in organized rallies, such as the one that welcomed Ms. Bhutto back to Pakistan on Oct. 18 (and was targeted by a suicide terrorist), but they generally avoid protest demonstrations where getting arrested and missing work is almost inevitable.
Translation:
Our lawyers are already fat with graft. They can do this all day, every day, for as long as you're willing to sit on the pot. But if we start to get bored, maybe we'll call out the real mobs.
Haqqani:
That could change in the days and weeks to come. Although Mr. Musharraf has taken all private and international television channels off the air, images of the protests are being seen all over Pakistan through the Internet and with satellite dishes. Middle-class Pakistanis, and increasingly the poor, are making it clear that they want political freedom, along with an improvement in their economic prospects, and do not consider prosperity and democracy to be mutually exclusive.
Translation:
And we don't want to have to go that far, now, do we? Try reading my lips, bro. I'm not sure we're really connecting here.
Haqqani:
The international community has also responded more strongly than Mr. Musharraf expected. The Netherlands has suspended aid, and several donors are reviewing their policy on military and economic assistance. The Bush administration is hoping to defuse the situation through assertive diplomacy. But withdrawal of aid, supported by several congressional leaders, remains a possibility.
Translation:
The New York mob is 100% with us. The Washington people are leaning our way. Fuck with the bull - get a horn in the ass.
Haqqani:
Since 9/11, Mr. Musharraf has positioned himself as the key Western ally in the global war against terrorism.
Translation:
This part of my message is for the Pentagon.
Haqqani:
But in recent months, he has been too distracted with domestic politics to play an effective role.
Translation:
We can neutralize Musharraf completely. You will never get anywhere with him.
Haqqani:
The more he has to repress critics and political opponents, the less Pakistan will be able to fight terrorism. After all, when troops have to be deployed to detain Supreme Court judges, journalists, lawyers and politicians, there are fewer troops available to fight terrorists. Pakistan's intelligence services can either spy on dissenting Pakistani civilians or focus their energies on finding Osama bin Laden and his ever increasing number of deputies and operatives around Pakistan.
Translation:
We're so tight with State, we can piss on your boots and tell you it's raining.
Haqqani:
But Pakistan needs to fight terrorism for Pakistan's sake. Mr. Musharraf cannot endlessly blackmail Washington by hinting that he would withdraw antiterror cooperation if the U.S. pressures him on other issues, including democracy and human-rights violations.
Translation:
Besides - you think you're using Musharraf. But it's the other way around.
Haqqani:
One thing is clear: Mr. Musharraf's authoritarianism is being challenged by diverse elements in Pakistani society.
Translation:
We have two Mexicans, a spade, and a tranny who calls herself "Marquetta." She can shoot the asshole out of a sparrow at fifty meters. But she says she likes you. Don't make her have to change her mind.
Haqqani:
His self-cultivated image as a benign dictator is a thing of the past, and his recent harsh measures have failed to frighten Pakistan's civil society and political opposition into submission.
Translation:
Have I mentioned yet that you're DOOMED?
Haqqani:
The defiance of the judiciary and the media might not immediately topple Mr. Musharraf, but it could render him ineffective to a point where the military rethinks its options. The army will soon recognize that the only thing keeping the general and his civilian cronies in power is the army's support. It risks further alienating the Pakistani people and losing their respect as long as it continues to act solely in the interests of Mr. Musharraf and his small band of political allies. At some point, the professional soldiers will wonder whether they should risk their institution's position to keep him in power.

The army is Mr. Musharraf's support base. It is a major beneficiary of U.S. security assistance, having received $17 billion since 1954 with equipment worth several hundred million dollars currently in the pipeline. Since 2002, the U.S. has subsidized the Pakistani army to the tune of $150 million per month. The army is also a stakeholder in Pakistan's growing economy, which benefits from international aid and investment. If Mr. Musharraf's autocratic policies threaten Pakistan's prosperity, the army is likely to be less unanimous in its support of its commander.
Translation:
Perhaps you're not ready to hear it yet. But maybe your people are. Are you sure they're all still loyal? Anyone can read the writing on the wall, old man.
Haqqani:
Already, there are signs of economic fallout from the political turmoil. Rumors of an anti-Musharraf military coup on Monday caused the biggest one-day decline in 16 months on the Karachi Stock Exchange, resulting in losses of an estimated $1.3 billion. Pakistan's credit rating has been revised downward in anticipation of further civic unrest and international sanctions.
Translation:
Our guys are lawyers - they can always find work. We don't care if we have to destroy the economy. But perhaps someone on your side does. Are you counting on him? I wouldn't be so fast, old chap.
Haqqani:
Pakistanis are used to coups d'état where the army takes the helm of government. Things are different this time. In the past, generals have suspended the constitution to remove from power unpopular rulers, usually weakened civilians rightly or wrongly accused of corruption (as was the case when Mr. Musharraf ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999).
Translation:
I'm too smart to say whether Nawaz Sharif was corrupt or not. After all, you never know. The future can hold anything.
Haqqani:
This is the first time an unpopular military ruler has suspended the constitution to preserve his own rule. In doing so, Mr. Musharraf has clearly overplayed his hand.
Translation:
You started it. But now, we're going to end this crap one way or another.
Haqqani:
Mr. Musharraf cannot blame a civilian predecessor for bringing the country to the brink. If there is internal chaos in Pakistan today, it is of the general's making. After all, it was his arbitrary decision to remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry in March that initiated the political crisis which has led to the current "state of emergency."
Translation:
And your boots are still getting wet. How dare you resist us? How dare you?
Haqqani:
Justice Chaudhry, on the other hand, has become a symbol of resistance to arbitrary rule -- the man who refused to roll over and disappear, unlike earlier judges who cooperated with military rulers or simply went home when their conscience dictated otherwise. Justice Chaudhry's call upon the legal fraternity to "Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice" for the supremacy of Pakistan's Constitution has drawn elements disillusioned with existing political leaders to anti-Musharraf protests.
Translation:
Article 37 of the Pakistani Constitution specifically states that all disputes shall be resolved by mob violence. Cut it out with this martial-law shit. If you have people, let's see 'em. If not, why the fuck are you still here?
Haqqani:
Among Pakistani political leaders, Ms. Bhutto has emerged as the viable civilian alternative to Mr. Musharraf, with public support at home and acceptance abroad. As the only politician in Pakistan to publicly describe Islamist extremism and terrorism as the principal threat to the nation, Ms. Bhutto was initially measured in her response to Mr. Musharraf's reckless actions. She demanded that he restore the constitution and call elections as scheduled.
Translation:
Look - Pinkie has been very patient with you.
Haqqani:
She demanded that he restore the constitution and call elections as scheduled. She hoped to change his attitude with the threat of putting hundreds of thousands of supporters in the streets, without actually doing so. But Mr. Musharraf's stubbornness is changing that position.
Translation:
But she's starting to get a little fed up.
Haqqani:
Like many in the U.S., Ms. Bhutto appears worried about directing attention away from fighting terrorism and destabilizing Pakistan further. But leaving the anti-Musharraf campaign leaderless is not an option. She has positioned herself as an opposition leader who represents the sentiment of the people, but is also willing to accept a negotiated settlement that restores the constitution, ends persecution, and results in free and fair elections leading to full civilian rule.
Translation:
As you see, Pinkie is prepared to be quite reasonable.
Haqqani:
So far Mr. Musharraf has shown no inclination to negotiate in good faith with Ms. Bhutto or the international community. With each passing day, the Bush administration's hopes -- that with its help there could be a transition to democracy in Pakistan with a continuing role for Mr. Musharraf -- are diminishing. Unless Mr. Musharraf changes course quickly, the U.S. will be compelled to start looking beyond him to a more legitimate leader.
Translation:
Perhaps you should be reasonable as well.
Haqqani:
Mr. Musharraf seems determined to put his own political survival before the rule of law -- actions that warrant the label dictator. Pakistan's attorneys, and increasingly the rest of its citizenry, seem equally determined to prevent this from happening.
Translation:
In summary: JOIN US OR DIE!

Thanks, I'm all done here. A big hand to Rupert for helping make this message possible. Mr. Murdoch, you've come a long way in your efforts to avoid the fate of Lord Black. And to all the good folks at Washcorp: remember, we're on your side.
And that's the entire article.

Anyway. I don't mean to be too flippant here. This is obviously a serious business. But if Marx was right about anything, he was right about history and farce.

Now, here's another article. Same day, same paper, but this one is on the bottom of the front page - WSJl, as it were. This is hard news.
Failed Courtship of Warlord
Trips Up U.S. in Afghanistan
Eager for Allies, Army
Tries Turning Insurgents;
Chaos Embroils Pakistan
By JAY SOLOMON
November 8, 2007; Page A1
I have no idea who "Jay Solomon" is. But does it matter?

Not at all. Perhaps you have seen All the President's Men and you think the life of the elite Washington journalist is all about diving through dumpsters and making secret rendezvous with anonymous informants in scruffy phonebooths. I'm afraid this is not how it is.

If you are someone who can get his articles on the front page of the WSJ, as many prewritten stories as you could possibly ask for will show up in your email every day. These are not even press releases. They are messages directly to you. But if you don't print them or if you screw them up in some way, they will stop coming and you will fall off the front page. The task, however, is basically the normal journalist's task of rewriting official information dumps, to make them seem as if they were written by an intelligent person with judgment and character.

This one, as we'll see, is obviously from the State Department.
The U.S. is struggling to find tribal allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to beat back the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban.
I hate to break it to you, kids. But when you're winning, the allies struggle to find you.
In alienating a powerful warlord named Jalaluddin Haqqani a few years ago, however, some U.S. and Afghan officials argue the Americans may have shot themselves in the foot.
Okay, here is the money. First, note the sourcing. Clearly "officials" means State and/or CIA. In case you've been in a cave for the last 30 years, these two are like this these days.

Second, note the reason Mr. Haqqani (I'm sure the coincidence of name is, um, coincidental) is fighting. He is fighting for emotional reasons. He is obviously a deeply troubled young man who only needs time and peace to heal.

This is absolutely typical of the rhetoric of these stupid little wars. To the hawks, our enemies fight because they hate us. They will always hate us, so they must be destroyed. To the ravens, our enemies fight because they hate us. Their hearts have been hardened by our callous and cruel treatment, but with enough hugs and candy they can be made to love us again.

Do I need to tell you how insane both these attitudes are? They are both perfect examples of Conquest's three laws. And they are exactly the reason I support a complete shutdown of US foreign policy, with no exceptions at all, dissolving State completely and folding Defense into Homeland Security. Perhaps we can rename it "National Security."

Anyway, more:
Mr. Haqqani is now one of the major rebel leaders roiling Afghanistan. But back in autumn 2002, he secretly sent word that he could ally with the new U.S.-friendly Afghan government. The warlord had once been a partner of the Central Intelligence Agency, and later closely collaborated with Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban. CIA officers held talks with his brother, Ibrahim, and made plans to meet with Mr. Haqqani, who was leading some of the Taliban's troops.

But U.S. military forces operating separately from the CIA arrested Ibrahim -- cutting off the talks and entrenching his brother as a nemesis. Mr. Haqqani is still fighting U.S. troops along the Pakistan border. "We blew our chance," contends one of the CIA officers involved who had worked with Mr. Haqqani in the 1980s. "I truly believe he could have been on our side."
Just like Uncle Ho! I'm telling you, man. History as farce.
Other senior officials in the CIA and Pentagon are less certain.
We'll quote anyone. But the ledes go only to our real friends.
But Washington's aborted courtship of Mr. Haqqani epitomizes the conflicts and calculations that are complicating U.S. involvement in the region.
Sometimes I like to just say nothing at all.
The war in Afghanistan is a major factor in the chaos unfolding in neighboring Pakistan. A spreading Islamic insurgency inside Pakistan is one reason Gen. Pervez Musharraf cited Saturday when he declared emergency rule, though the opposition contends the move was more about extending his stay in power. Militants in Pakistan's tribal belt are suspected of fighting in both countries, dramatically widening the conflict from the days that it was largely confined to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, some officials report that bears are shitting in the woods.
With U.S. intelligence officials concerned that al Qaeda is using Pakistan as a base to plot new attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere, winning back tribal leaders like Mr. Haqqani -- or eradicating those who refuse to be wooed -- has climbed to the top of Washington's strategic agenda. The State Department recently pledged $750 million in new aid to Pakistan's border regions, hoping to use economic development and education to peel local leaders away from al Qaeda and militants such as Mr. Haqqani.
Whoa! Okay, let's stop right here. I don't think we need to quote any more of this article.

Question: "Who controls Pakistan's border regions?"

Answer: "The Taliban."

Question: "So when State sends $750 million to Pakistan's border regions, who are they sending $750 million to?"

Answer: "What are you, anyway? Some kind of a neo-McCarthyist?"

In other words, here is what Washcorp is up to in Pakistan. This is its favorite trick. It does this all the time. It just needs to make sure you don't see the aces in its sleeves.

Washcorp is fighting a war against itself. Through one arm, it is funding the Taliban. Through another arm, American soldiers are fighting the Taliban. If you think this is the first time this sort of thing has happened, perhaps you need to think about switching your history provider.

The delusional belief that allows Washington to fight a war against itself, without State and Defense actually coming to actual fisticuffs in the National Security Council, is that you can pay people to love you. The folks over at State genuinely believe that the Pashtun tribes can be bought off. If not $750 million, how about a cool 1.5 bil? What's 1.5 billion when we're talking about peace? Besides, it's not really our money, anyway.

Meanwhile, up in Peshawar, they're not exactly stupid. They're perfectly aware that they are being paid to fight the Pentagon, just as they were paid to fight the Soviets. New century, new evil empire, same difference. "After all, if we stopped fighting, wouldn't State just stop paying? The more we fight, the more we seem to get paid. Funny how that works. Why, it's almost like having an actual job!"

The same exact thing is going on with Bhutto and her cronies. And even with Musharraf. Apres moi, le deluge! If Musharraf actually destroys the Islamists, his cash pipeline from Arlington will dry up. "Sorry, old chap, Ben's having a little trouble with the printer. He's out in his helicopter today, anyway. Something about 'jumbo loans?' But we'll call you just as soon as he gets back. Cheerio!"

But at least Musharraf is actually capable of fighting the Islamists. Whereas Bhutto's only solution is to pay them, pay them and pay them again. She will smother those poor, broken, mistreated men with her warm, wise Cambridge-educated love. And surely they will love her, and us, etc, etc, etc. If there are any remaining disputes, perhaps the United Nations can settle it. Wouldn't it be nice if the United Nations could trust America again?

This is the entire pattern of Washcorp's foreign relations for the last 65 years. At least. It's a sort of MySpace diplomacy, with buckets of cash. The entire point is to pay people, typically extremely sordid and nasty people, to let us be their "friend." And look! How many friends America has. Conquest's third law, dear reader, I rest my case.

Meanwhile, the poor bastards in the US military are fighting against suicide bombers whose wallets are stuffed to the gills with their own tax dollars. We're raining so much money on northern Pakistan, you probably can't get a latte in Peshawar for less than $20.

(Couldn't we at least mark the bills, so we can see where it's going? I mean, when you send $750M to the North-West Frontier Provinces, how do you do it? Do you send in Ben Bernanke, in a heavily armored Apache, and have him dumping bales from the tailgunner's seat? Or do you just write a check to Mullah Omar? If so, where does he bank?)

Of course, Mullah Omar is happy to take cash. Even dollars! And he's certainly not afraid of all the lawyers in Pakistan. What are they going to do, sue him? I am not an expert in the Quran, but somehow I don't think it says anything about "batons and tear gas."

So it's fairly clear what we can expect if Musharraf loses and Bhutto wins: Khomeini 2.0, with nukes and ICBMs. Hey, it worked for Carter. Perhaps Condoleeza Rice will get the Nobel. Or Rice and al-Zawahiri? Could they be meeting already?

Anyway. Enough of this mockery. The bottom line, in my deeply humble and quite sincere opinion, is that it's time for an independent Pakistan.

In case you're not familiar with this word "independent," let me go through its etymology. It starts with "in," which oddly enough is a kind of Latin word for "not." Then the second part is this "dependent" bit. I'm not quite sure what that means. But the whole construct would seem to imply that Pakistan, or the Pakistani government, or someone, is not, in some way, dependent.

On, I don't know, anyone else. Like, as in, it can do whatever it wants. And nobody will cut its allowance. And nobody will raise its allowance. Because it has no allowance. And if it decides that the best way to handle a mob of lawyers is a couple of bored sergeants and a Dushka, nobody who's not actually within at most a thousand kilometers of Rawalpindi has any reason to care. Not even the Wall Street Journal. Unless it's, like, a slow news day or something.

(Thanks to reader ZK, who may or may not endorse the result, for much useful background.)

How Dawkins got pwned (part 7)

(See parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.)

Part 7 is actually the actual conclusion to this monstrous piece. Even better, next week I'll try to answer some of the very cogent questions that have built up in the comments.

At the risk of sounding like Maya Angelou, the only way to end is to return to the beginning. Our beginning is of course Professor Dawkins, and that little blind spot in the back of his head which we've learned to call Universalism.

Let's not forget what makes Professor Dawkins so pwned. The great exploit is that the good professor genuinely believes that he subscribes to no belief system at all. As Sam Harris puts it:
We should not call ourselves atheists. We should not call ourselves secularists. We should not call ourselves humanists, or secular humanists, or naturalists, or skeptics, or anti-theists, or rationalists, or freethinkers, or brights. We should not call ourselves anything.
In other words: the only pattern that describes our beliefs is reason, reality, or truth. Thus no additional label is necessary. There is no word for people who believe that a dropped stone accelerates at 9.8 meters per second squared. Why should there be?

If you're right, of course, you're right. However, it is not difficult to see the potential for arrogance and intolerance in any such reluctance to self-label. No 13th-century Frenchman would have labeled himself as "a Catholic." He did not call himself anything, any more than Sam Harris. His beliefs were universal - that's what catholic means. But were they true? Certainly not by Sam Harris's light.

Admittedly, this "No Logo" approach - which I suspect Professor Dawkins is a little too sharp to fall for - is preferable to the appalling coinage bright, which suggests that anyone who disagrees is not only ignorant but also stupid. 21st-century fanaticism really knows no shame.

But even the term atheist defines a belief system as an absence of creed - and thus of credulity. (If you're an atheist, as I am.) Thus it is essentially the same sort of evasion. The atheist label serves as a token of agreement between Professor Dawkins and his burgeoning legion of followers that the only pattern which describes their collective beliefs is that they have escaped from - or at least failed to succumb to - one particular barbaric, medieval superstition. While this may be correct, it's hardly modest.

Let's say there are two kinds of belief systems. A class A belief system propagates nothing but an accurate perception of reality. A class B belief system propagates fictions, distortions, contradictions, and/or other general nonsense. Since no one has any conscious desire to believe in nonsense, it's hard to see how any class B belief system can survive unless it can disguise itself as a class A belief system. (I see no reason to think there has ever been any such beast in the wild as a class A belief system.)

The hack that has exploited Professor Dawkins is almost too simple to work. It's truly elegant. When I was 17, I found a setgid violation on a SunOS kernel profiler and used it to find the address of my U area, which I could zero from the console debugger, giving my shell process root. I found this terribly cool. Then I showed it to an older hacker, who must have been all of 21 (Tom Lawrence? Is Tom Lawrence in the building? I think he worked at SGI for a while...) and he showed me how he'd used a link editor on the kernel objects to construct a version of SunOS (bootable from the console debugger) with a disabled setuid() function, on which all processes were unavoidably root. Trust me - this was much, much cooler. But it wasn't as cool as "atheism."

By sacrificing a single metaphysical construct - "God" - this new release of Christianity, Universalism, has constructed a convincing case (at least it seems to convince Professor Dawkins) that it has transitioned from a class B system to a class A system. And how has it done this? Simply by pointing to its predecessor, and noting that the former is class B. Well, duh.

Everyone knows that Western thought today, even in its most fashionable incarnations, has Christian roots. But somehow, most of us think it's possible to escape the implications of this connection by simply denying the Christian label, and adopting a metaphysical doctrine - atheism - which is repugnant to the unwashed who have not made this great leap. The result is that we land in "No Logo" nirvana. We are the enlightened ones. Hail us!

Imagine if I tried the same with Nazism. I could march around in a brown leather uniform all day, waving a swastika banner and condemning the filthy Zionist-Bolshevik hordes. When questioned by the usual voices of decency, I could respond that:
  • I'm not a Nazi. In fact, I oppose Nazism. So I'm not a Nazi.
  • I'm half-Jewish. The Nazis would never have me. So I'm not a Nazi.
  • Nazis believe in the leadership of Adolf Hitler. I don't. So I'm not a Nazi.
  • My inverted swastika is actually a Hindu fertility symbol. So I'm not a Nazi.
Etc, etc, etc. How much ice do you think this would cut with the diversity committee? But somehow, when the creed is Christianity rather than Nazism, it can be ditched as easily as a Muslim's wife. Just say: "I'm an atheist, I'm an atheist, I'm an atheist." And no one will ever be able to accuse you of being a religious fanatic, at least not without substantial preparatory explanation. What more perfect cover story for an actual religious fanatic?

Anyway. I apologize if I'm getting a little repetitive here. I don't think this trick can be analyzed too many times. I grew up as a Universalist myself, and there's nothing like finding one of those Brawndo moments in one's own head, especially after 30-plus years of believing any such mental baggage was reserved for one's lessers. "But Brawndo has electrolytes." And so it does.

This poor little blog cannot possibly hope to topple or even shake the great Gibraltar that is the Universalist church. But what I love about exploring Universalism, what makes it so fun for me, is that there's a genuine sense of newness to it. The anaesthetic that the Universalist brainworm secretes, euphoric though it is - who can deny the believer's genuine joy? - conceals all kinds of fascinating adaptive structures. With the magic sunglasses, these pop right out in living color, and you can see them every day on the front page of the Times. It's like going on a galactic mission to Planet Earth. America the home of the free and the brave, and Plainland the home of the Universalist corporate theocracy, are the same physical place. But you can be excused for wishing you hadn't left your spacesuit back on the ship.

Anyway. To continue the discussion from part 6, we were talking about governments. Or as we say when we use the magic sunglasses, sovcorps.

The fundamental problem of modern history is to understand the great massacres of the 20th century. To at least the first approximation, any general theory of modern history must be a theory of democide.

I've expressed this before, but let me state it more bluntly: the cause of democide is democracy. The democides of the 20th century - plus one important adumbration, the War of Secession, the first modern total war - can only be understood as a consequence of the victory of democracy. And therefore of the defeat of the Concert of Europe and the Holy Alliance.

Needless to say, this belief is the polar opposite of Universalist doctrine. Of all Universalist cult words, there is perhaps none more holy than democracy. And these days the especially daring may make so bold as to praise Enoch Powell, but no significant political intellectual at least in my lifetime has tipped much hat to Wellington, Metternich or Castlereagh. I always liked Shelley's verse:
I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him;

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
The latter stanza is doggerel, but the former with its cute anti-sightrhyme is really memorable. Which is a shame in a way. Because if anyone's philosophy came flanked by murderous hounds, it was Shelley's revolutionary democratic nationalism. Whereas all Castlereagh's reactionary monarchism produced was European peace and prosperity for most of a century. But why should history be sane?

Of course, Universalists have their own theory of democide. In the Universalist narrative, the cause of democide is dictatorship, or more precisely autocracy.

I have been unable to determine the exact meaning of this word. However, it seems to be the case that a sovcorp is either a democracy, or an autocracy. I've certainly never heard of any regime that was both democratic and autocratic, or any that was neither. So presumably they are antonyms. However, a common synonym for the former is self-government. Since this is also the literal meaning of the latter, we can see that we're on some tricky linguistic ground.

So we have two theories of democide to compare: the reservationist theory (mine), and the Universalist theory (everyone else's). If popularity is your ruler, the answer is obvious. But in that case, surely there are other blogs you could be reading.

In questions of this appalling magnitude, I find the best way to "overcome bias" is often to find perspectives which seem to make each answer obvious. Once we recognize that both A and B are obviously true, and A is inconsistent with B, we are in the right mindset for actual thought.

From the reservationist perspective, democracy is obviously the cause of democide - because the Age of Democracy is also the Age of Democide. The last major outbreak of indiscriminate mass murder in Europe was the massacre of Beziers in the Albigensian Crusade, which is easy to explain as a breakdown in military discipline, and whose memory also has suspicious links to the anticlerical Black Legend.

This was in 1209. (Possibly some nasty things also happened in the Thirty Years War. But defenestration is not democide. Nor is famine or the pest. And even if we admit that the Sack of Magdeburg was no picnic, it was again a failure of discipline - the opposite of Eichmann.)

Then, 780 years later, the association between popular government and democide opens with the French Revolution (if not with Cromwell's plantation of Ireland), and continues to pop up everywhere. Every sovcorp which has ever committed democide has claimed to be the one true representative of the People. Black Legend notwithstanding, significant cases of monarchist mass murder are hard to find. (For example, most of what you know about the so-called "Inquisition" isn't true.)

Furthermore, before our great Age of Democracy, it was widely assumed that progress would simply continue and civilization would only get more civilized. The famous example is Gibbon, from his General Observations:
It is the duty of a patriot to prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native country; but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose various inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation. The balance of power will continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own or the neighbouring kingdoms may be alternately exalted or depressed; but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness, the system of arts, and laws, and manners, which so advantageously distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans and their colonies. The savage nations of the globe are the common enemies of civilized society; and we may inquire with anxious curiosity, whether Europe is still threatened with a repetition of those calamities which formerly oppressed the arms and institutions of Rome. Perhaps the same reflections will illustrate the fall of that mighty empire, and explain the probable causes of our actual security.

The Romans were ignorant of the extent of their danger, and the number of their enemies. Beyond the Rhine and Danube, the northern countries of Europe and Asia were filled with innumerable tribes of hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious, and turbulent; bold in arms, and impatient to ravish the fruits of industry. The Barbarian world was agitated by the rapid impulse of war; and the peace of Gaul or Italy was shaken by the distant revolutions of China. The Huns, who fled before a victorious enemy, directed their march towards the West; and the torrent was swelled by the gradual accession of captives and allies. The flying tribes who yielded to the Huns assumed in their turn the spirit of conquest; the endless column of Barbarians pressed on the Roman empire with accumulated weight; and, if the foremost were destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new assailants. Such formidable emigrations can no longer issue from the North; and the long repose, which has been imputed to the decrease of population, is the happy consequence of the progress of arts and agriculture. Instead of some rude villages, thinly scattered among its woods and morasses, Germany now produces a list of two thousand three hundred walled towns; the Christian kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Poland, have been successively established; and the Hanse merchants, with the Teutonic knights, have extended their colonies along the coast of the Baltic, as far as the Gulf of Finland. From the Gulf of Finland to the Eastern Ocean, Russia now assumes the form of a powerful and civilized empire. The plough, the loom, and the forge, are introduced on the banks of the Volga, the Oby, and the Lena; and the fiercest of the Tartar hordes have been taught to tremble and obey. The reign of independent Barbarism is now contracted to a narrow span; and the remnant of Calmucks or Uzbecks, whose forces may be almost numbered, cannot seriously excite the apprehensions of the great republic of Europe. Yet this apparent security should not tempt us to forget that new enemies, and unknown dangers, may possibly arise from some obscure people, scarcely visible in the map of the world. The Arabs or Saracens, who spread their conquests from India to Spain, had languished in poverty and contempt, till Mahomet breathed into those savage bodies the soul of enthusiasm.

[...] Europe is now divided into twelve powerful, though unequal, kingdoms, three respectable commonwealths, and a variety of smaller, though independent, states; the chances of royal and ministerial talents are multiplied, at least with the number of its rulers; and a Julian, or Semiramis, may reign in the North, while Arcadius and Honorius again slumber on the thrones of the South. The abuses of tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame; republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have imbibed the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation; and some sense of honour and justice is introduced into the most defective constitutions by the general manners of the times. In peace, the progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by the emulation of so many active rivals: in war, the European forces are exercised by temperate and undecisive contests. If a savage conqueror should issue from the deserts of Tartary, he must repeatedly vanquish the robust peasants of Russia, the numerous armies of Germany, the gallant nobles of France, and the intrepid freemen of Britain; who, perhaps, might confederate for their common defence. Should the victorious Barbarians carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of civilized society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the American world which is already filled with her colonies and institutions.
Only a few years after Gibbon wrote these words, barbarism erupted in the heart of Europe - not among the Uzbecks and Calmucks, but in Paris herself. The City of Light became the City of Terror. Naturally, the tragedy is celebrated to this day.

Of course Gibbon agreed with Burke about this. (He also famously wrote that "if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus [ie, the Antonine period].") Basically, everyone sensible agreed. However we may perceive it today, in its own wake the French Revolution was no more considered defensible than the Third Reich is today.

From the 1790s through the 1820s, the word revolution actually had negative connotations in the King's English. If you had invented some new steam gizmo, you would be no more likely to describe it as revolutionary than a modern inventor would be to describe her work as fascist. ("My new fascist programming language - with really strong typechecking.") Even if all you meant was that your gizmo went around in circles, you'd probably find some different word.

For example, note how Shelley denounces the Liverpool regime in Masque of Anarchy - he accuses it of being anarchy under a mask of law. Actually suggesting that law was bad and anarchy was good would have been too much even for Shelley. (Anything that was too much for Shelley was too much for anyone.)

I don't find the links from Robespierre to Stalin and Mao particularly debatable. As for Hitler, the Jacobins and Nazis were both violent, charismatic street-gang movements with aggressive utopian ideals and a penchant for paranoid conspiracy theories, whose popular base was concentrated in the lower middle class. Ie: Hitler was practically Robespierre 2.0.

The great Carroll Quigley's observations about democracy and the Great War are also quite pertinent. From Tragedy and Hope, Quigley's criminally underread history of the century:
The influence of democracy served to increase the tension of a crisis because elected politicians felt it necessary to pander to the most irrational and crass motivations of the electorate in order to ensure future election, and did this by playing on hatred and fear of powerful neighbors or on such appealing issues as territorial expansion, nationalistic price, "a place in the sun," "outlets to the sea," and other real or imagined benefits. At the same time, the popular newspaper press, in order to sell papers, played on the same motives and issues, arousing their peoples, driving their own own politicians to extremes, and alarming neighboring states to the point where they hurried to adopt similar kinds of of action in the name of self-defense. Moreover, democracy made it impossible to examine international disputes on their merits, but instead transformed every petty argument into an affair of honor and national prestige so that no dispute could be examined on its merits or settled as a simple compromise because such a sensible approach would at once be hailed by one's democratic opposition as a loss of face and an unseemly compromise of exalted moral principles.
Quigley is of course describing the phenomenon known as jingoism. Compared to its 1914 incarnation, jingoism is a pretty minor problem these days. My guess is that we have the decline of political democracy, and the rise of bureaucratic democracy, to thank for this.

One thing most people don't know about the Great War is that all sides were democracies. There were no "absolute" governments in Europe in 1914. Recognizable democratic politics existed in every country. Calling Wilhelmine Germany in some way autocratic because Germans did not elect the Kaiser makes no more sense than calling the US autocratic because Americans do not elect the Supreme Court, or Europeans the European Commission.

(Which is not to say it makes no sense at all. But it makes the notion of a war for democracy risible. Much as 25 years later, the next war for democracy resulted in the enslavement of half Europe and most of Asia. Could I make this stuff up?)

In jingoism we see the Concert of Europe's last gasp for political oxygen. Reactionary aristocrats toward the end of the Belle Époque found that jingoist nationalism was their only way to compete for public favor with the socialists, whose program of plunder had obvious democratic appeal. The three classical traditions of Continental reaction - Legitimism, Orléanism, and Bonapartism - wound up congealing into a single shrunken and unattractive mass, in the shape of the anti-Dreyfusards, which combined the worst features of Bonapartism and Orléanism. It's hardly surprising that the defenders of Esterhazy have drifted out of historical respectability.

If we are looking for an objective definition of democracy rather than a moralistic one, there's no way we can stick with the Western distinction between representative democracy and the more malignant 20th-century forms, people's democracy and folkish democracy.

The idea of representation is implicit in the symbolic doxology of all these regimes, even to some extent in divine-right (as opposed to propertarian) monarchy - which is perhaps best seen as a sort of proto-democracy. Symbolically, the democratic State represents the General Will, the aspirations and needs of the entire community. The link between State and People is axiomatic in all democracies.

Like sausage, the rituals by which this submission is established and renewed rarely reward excessive inspection. Hitler loved his plebiscites, the Americans demand a two-party circus, the Europeans have parliaments and proportional representation, the Soviets got along fine with just one party, the East Germans had various toy oppositions, etc, etc, etc. Frankly, if there is a major categorical distinction here, I just ain't seeing it.

The distinction between political and apolitical democracy does not strike me as terribly significant. In fact, the latter is probably preferable. Certainly all modern democracies have delegated most important tasks to apolitical bureaucrats. As James Burnham pointed out 65 years ago, the administrative relevance of elected officials in the Western democracies is steadily decreasing. The insane orgiastic elections of the American 19th century are gone.

The difference between liberal democracy and totalitarian democracy is much more relevant. But it is a matter of the State's actions, not its management structure. I certainly favor liberal if not libertarian government, and I despise the tyrannical megastate. But I see no reason at all why the electoral structure of a democratic state should have much bearing on whether it is liberal or tyrannical.

The EU, for example, has little more in the way of electoral politics than the Soviet Union, but it is a much nicer place to live. I suspect the main difference is just that the former is in Western Europe and the latter was brought to us by Russia, a great and beautiful country, but never one noted for its appreciation of personal independence.

From a practical political perspective, the problem faced by all democracies is the same. The regime's survival is dependent on its popularity. Its military is only a backup, and probably will not be willing to resist any serious popular protest. Therefore, to establish any stability, the democratic State must manage public opinion. This is also known as manufacturing consent, and it typically involves a substantial system of official or quasiofficial education and/or journalism.

So a good way to see which faction holds real power in a democratic state is to look at which can get its people into influential roles in education and/or journalism. For example, if anyone reading this still retains any doubt in the matter, this algorithm shows us that the Republicans are the real party of power in the US, and the Democrats are a toy or decoy opposition. Statistics show that the vast majority of political contributions from educators and journalists in the US go to Republicans. Obviously this is why political opinions in the US are constantly shifting to the right. An amoral young political entrepreneur will "lead" this shifting moral Zeitgeist, and adjust his positions to be mainstream at such time as he expects to contend for office. This may be why so many young American intellectuals support torturing terrorists who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal savior.

Once we understand jingoism as a symptom of democracy, and once we realize that the structure or even existence of a democratic political system is not terribly important, the inference from democracy to democide starts to approach the obvious level. It is the Eastern totalitarian democracies of the 20th century that seem more the rule, and the Western liberal democracies more the exception. And we begin to suspect that the West is liberal despite democracy, whereas the East was totalitarian because of it.

You will find people who don't smoke and get lung cancer. And you may find non-democratic states which go off the rails and engage in mass murder. But generally, wherever you find the effect, it's not hard to guess the cause. Smoking obviously causes lung cancer, and democracy obviously causes democide. Duh.

But then we look at the Universalist theory of democide - and we see an equally obvious answer, which strikes us as much simpler. It certainly demands no long essay to explain.

We all know this theory. It tells us that democide is the result of evil dictatorships. When we look at the Age of Democide - discounting occasional moments of military exuberance, such as the strategic bombing of Japan and Germany - what we see is very clear. We see that mass murder is practiced by dictators, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam, Pol Pot, etc, etc, etc. Meanwhile, under representative democracy, we see peace and prosperity. Ergo, democracy is the cure for democide, and absence of democracy is the cause. Duh.

Of course, my reservationist opinion is that this argument seems simple and obvious only because we know it so well. ("But Brawndo has electrolytes!") But at least we have the contradiction, and it puts us in the right mood for actual analytic thought.

Our goal in this last part of the Dawkins essay is to understand Universalism, and to see it adaptively - to explain why it has outcompeted all the other crazy things people could believe, but don't.

Explaining Universalism's historical roots and sectarian pedigree is always interesting, but it always carries a slight hint of eau de McCarthy. The history of the thing (once again, I recommend McKenna's Puritan Origins of American Patriotism) helps us sort up from down and get some idea of what questions to ask. But fundamentally - as some commenters have observed - the history of Universalism tells us no more than we learn by knowing that political party X is descended from Nazis, or Communists, or whatever. Like its biological counterpart, memetic evolution can cover an impressive distance in a short time. (Consider the Socreds.)

So the question is: why is Universalism so successful? Why are so many Americans and Europeans these days Universalists? Especially so many smart, well-informed, talented Americans and Europeans? And why does the intensity of Universalism seem to be growing?

(If you doubt the latter point, I have two words for you: Operation Wetback. If you need three, try Louise Day Hicks. Professor Dawkins' shifting moral Zeitgeist may deserve some more prosaic name than the Spirit of Time, and its morality is arguable as morality is. But it's pretty hard to say it ain't shifting. And yes, that bit about torturing terrorists for Jesus was satire.)

The critical issue, I think, is the relationship between Universalism and the State.

As I said in a previous post, this is at least as close as the connection between malaria and the mosquito. You can imagine something like Universalism whose transmission vector was not the State. You can also imagine something like malaria whose transmission vector was, say, the tick. But it's hard to imagine anyone calling it "malaria."

Even closer is the relationship between Universalism and democracy. These phenomena have quite clearly evolved together. At this point we are talking about multiple features of the same organism - more like the relationship between malaria schizonts and trophozoites. (Okay, yuck. But remember, folks, this is just an analogy.)

Whatever the details of the lifecycle, it seems pretty clear that one of these beasties is the chicken and the other one is the egg. Thus, picking one at random, let's start with democracy and explain why Universalism is so successful in a democratically managed sovcorp. (A fun exercise would be to take the opposite path, and explain why democracy is so successful in a sovcorp whose tenants are Universalists.)

Our goal is to understand Universalism from a historical perspective which is completely non-Universalist. While it was certainly not utterly free from democratic cant, the Burkean Europe that the Congress of Vienna tried to create, and did to some extent and for some time create, is certainly as close as we can come to such a perspective. It certainly beats the next competitor, the Antonine Rome of Marcus Aurelius.

(The nice thing about both these periods is that they were both relatively non-Universalist, yet relatively acceptable to Universalist taste. You simply can't argue that Castlereagh had anything in common with Hitler. He would have had Hitler horsewhipped. The thought of Stalin in the presence of Aurelius is similarly comical and depressing.)

We can construct a complete non-Universalist narrative of the State, therefore, by pulling out the good old what-ifs, and imagining that instead of decaying into nationalist democracy the Concert of Europe had advanced into neocameralism.

Let's review the neocameralist theory of the sovcorp for a moment.

A sovcorp is a corporation that owns a populated territory, and is not dependent on any other power to enforce its claim of property. A planet whose surface area is divided among multiple sovcorps is a stable property system if and only if no sovcorp can profit by attacking another. This can be assured by a variety of means - military deterrence or compellence, collective security, etc, etc. Tall fences make good neighbors, but a nuke or two doesn't hurt neither. Rationally managed sovcorps are especially good at deterrence, because the game theory is much simpler if you assume rational actors.

(The basic difference between neocameralism and anarcho-capitalism is that I don't think this sort of self-enforcing property model scales militarily, at least not anywhere near to the level where individuals are sovereign. I mean, someone is crazy here, and I don't think it's me. But then I wouldn't, would I?)

Assuming military stability, the essential property of a stable neocameralist sovcorp is that its revenues are formalized and distributed equally among its shareholders, who own and manage it in proportion to their holdings. An immutable corporate charter sets the sovcorp's rights and responsibilities, and prevents a majority of shareholders from abusing a minority, eg, by confiscating their shares.

And who ensures that the corporate definition is immutable? Again, there is no such thing as a self-enforcing law. The ultimate decision algorithm in every dispute is always military. Fortunately, obeying simple rules is what military men do best. If the Schelling point of simple, precise formal law fails, there's always my favorite gimcrack technical solution - cryptographic weapon locks. In the 21st century, there's no reason every rifle - even every bullet - can't have one.

My belief is that, except for the minor matter of taxation, which will go to the Laffer maximum and stay there, a neocameralist sovcorp's interests are perfectly aligned with the interests of its tenants. Specifically, a profitable, efficiently-run sovcorp - even in the degenerate and undesirable case of a single global monopoly - will operate a libertarian government which maintains Pareto optimality. My reasoning is that any Pareto inefficiency represents an uncaptured tax, which affects the Laffer curve but generates zero revenue. Basically, the territory and residents of a sovcorp are its capital, and a well-run corporation, sovereign or otherwise, treats its capital the way the way Mother Teresa holds a baby bird.

So we can imagine a coherent alternate history in which the States of the Concert of Europe converted themselves into neocameralist sovcorps, by formalizing their revenues, dividing them into shares, and ceding management to the shareholders. Essentially, from the perspective of a monarch, this is like converting a family business into a public corporation. History shows that it's possible to run a sovcorp as a family business, but it doesn't really demonstrate that it's a good idea.

If I'm right that a shareholder-controlled sovcorp is stable, this would almost certainly have averted the democides of the 20th century. So why didn't it happen?

The answer, unfortunately, is that I don't think it was a realistic possibility.

The problem is that it's one thing to suggest that an informal business be formalized, and another to do it. And it's even harder in a sovcorp. Even if the idea is obvious and available, which in 1815 it clearly was not, there are many cases where it may be simply impossible.

No European monarchy was ever anything like "absolute." The so-called Age of Absolutism is misnamed - as the book behind the link demonstrates elegantly.

First, "absolute" is in any case a pejorative slur. A better word would be coherent. A coherent enterprise can coordinate all of its actions through a single central decision process. (This does not mean that a coherent sovcorp needs to engage in economic central planning.)

Second, coherence was not a quality but an aspiration of the old European monarchies, and a distant aspiration at that. Probably the most coherent 18th-century sovcorp was the Prussia of Frederick the Great, but to call even Prussia absolutely coherent would be stretching the term. The weakness of the French monarchy is adequately demonstrated by the circumstances of its collapse. The same goes, although much later, for the Russians. And so on.

So the monarchies of old Europe were both informal (with no clear equity structure) and incoherent (with no clear management structure). Imagine the task of formalizing an informal, incoherent monarchy. Being a minister at the Bourbon court was not an easy job - especially when you realize that at the time, there was actually no such thing as bourbon. I think if I had Necker's job, I'd want to come home to a nice tall mint julep every night.

In the neocameralist scheme, we can distinguish four clear aspects of sovereign corporate governance. One is revenue: how is the sovcorp's cash flow handled? Another is law: what promises has the sovcorp made to its tenants? A third is power: who controls the administrative apparatus of the sovcorp? A fourth is operations: who works for the sovcorp?

A well-managed sovcorp is a single accounting entity which collects and distributes all revenue centrally, and which treats all payments as formal obligations.

A well-managed sovcorp obeys all its own laws, and binds itself with new laws only when it is satisfied that it will not have to break them. It keeps a public list of these laws, and it does not bind itself to obey any unwritten rules that are not laws.

A well-managed sovcorp is managed by the holders of the equity tranche of its securities, like any normal corporation. These shareholders make the management decisions because they have the highest exposure to risk and reward. (Although it is not utterly ridiculous to give votes to debtholders as well.) The shareholders are precisely defined and publicly listed, their shares are fungible, and voting is by blocks of shares.

A well-managed sovcorp distinguishes between its shareholders and its employees. The latter work at the sovcorp's administrative pleasure and can be dismissed at any time upon notice from the board. Any overlap between employees and creditors is coincidental and irrelevant. The same goes for any overlap between employees and customers.

Needless to say, no sovcorp in history has fit this profile. And France in 1788 was very, very far from it. In fact, it was a morass of venal offices, scheming factions, diverted revenues, etc, etc, etc. The Bourbon regime of 1788 may not have been doomed by the Zeitgeist to destruction, and it may not have been a nightmare of proto-Nazi tyranny. In fact, it wasn't either. But to call it well-managed would be going way, way too far.

When a sovcorp has an informal creditor structure and an incoherent power base, the two tend to overlap and interact in a very ugly way. Factions are constantly scheming for money and power. Some may have more money than power, some more power than money. Historically, telling people to stop scheming is not an effective way to stop them from scheming.

The natural path of development for a malstructured corporation is to become more malstructured. The informal structures of money and power are no less real for their informality. Their complexity tends to increase over time.

The typical mechanism of complexity collapse for a sovcorp is for an incoherent power base to break down into incoherent management, which works at cross purposes to itself. Incoherently managed organizations tend to operate by process rather than initiative, using procedural orders instead of Aufragstaktik or "mission orders." The resulting codes of procedure snowball into a giant mass of red tape, and the organization becomes paralyzed.

If the sovcorp does not have a central balance sheet, its revenues will be diverted not only by its power base, but also by its employees. The result is that employees effectively become creditors. Exactly the same can happen with customers, who will always take anything they are given. The result is that the whole elegant structure of the owner-controlled corporation devolves into a homogeneous, disorganized mass of so-called "stakeholders."

So, even if my contention that the neocameralist sovcorp is stable is correct, it is not the sort of stability that acts as a strong attractor. A slightly malstructured sovcorp will not tend to fix itself. It will tend to become even more malstructured.

This perspective lets us see democracy from a neocameralist perspective.

A modern democracy is nothing more and nothing less than a very malstructured sovcorp. Its basic problems are that its power base - its voters, who are at least in theory the owners of this collective enterprise - is completely deformalized. Voters cannot sell their shares, nor does a share guarantee an equal percentage of government revenue. New shares are constantly being issued to children of citizens and immigrants, a process with no relationship to any sound governance practice. The confusion of customers and shareholders is complete.

As a consequence, the sovcorp develops an incoherent management structure marked by constant factional tensions, overgrowth of process, etc, etc. It also develops an overgrowth of employees, who are thinly disguised shareholders - aka, "jobs for the boys."

Worst of all, this management structure often has very little local incentive to treat the sovcorp's capital properly. Decisions that damage overall capital may generate revenue for a certain subset of shareholders, and not for anyone else.

The danger is especially acute when some shareholders are insecure. Violent conflict over the direction of sovcorp revenues is not at all impossible. Here we start to see the roots of democide. When management is incoherent, sovereignty itself becomes nebulous. Which parts of Washcorp wanted to invade Iraq, and which parts didn't? The question is easy to answer: look at the changes in revenue flow as a result of the decision. While the decision to invade Iraq was a rare example of coherent (if not intelligent) management in Washcorp, it is not difficult to see which agencies supported it and which didn't. They match the prediction.

In other words, we have left the simple world of corporate governance and entered into the hairy world of public choice theory. Neocameralist corporate governance has grave difficulty in explaining why a sovcorp would want to massacre its tenants. Public choice theory is only too glad to oblige.

Finally, when we see a democratic sovcorp as a profoundly mismanaged sovcorp, we start to be able to understand why Universalism is so darned successful.

Once again, Universalism is a mystery cult of power. And when we look at Universalism's mysteries - equality, social justice, peace, and so on, we see something I find very interesting.

We note that all of these mysteries serve as excellent excuses for why an individual should (a) break the law, (b) revise the law, (c) revise the distribution of property, or (d) organize with others to achieve (a), (b), or (c).

In a formalist society, there is one rule of social good behavior: obey the law. In a Universalist society, there is an enormous panoply of political mysteries, all of which can be deployed in the service of power. Since gaining power is always advantageous to the individual who gains it, it is advantageous to just about anyone in a Universalist society to be as Universalist as possible.

The result is that, as in decadent cultures throughout history, the principal occupation of talented and energetic young people is not productive effort. It is scheming for power.

For example, consult this Washington Post article. I'm sure none of the individuals the reporter profiled, and precious few like them, think of themselves as scheming for power. However, they are all so eager to work for NGOs that they have driven salaries down to the bare minimum required to purchase Ramen noodles and happy-hour cocktails.

NGOs have the N in their acronym for one reason: because their general mission is to affect government policy, the beast being too paralyzed in process to make its own decisions. The term "paragovernmental" might be more appropriate. Essentially, these young people are all drones working for the State. They are certainly not producing goods or services.

Why are they so interested in this so-called work? Perhaps it's because their country's productive industries have been paralyzed in red tape to the point of complete Dilbert-Brezhnev Office-Space syndrome. But it may also be because they are paid not just in money but in power - the power to influence policy, to "change the world" - and this power translates to social status. Which, not to be too blunt, gets you laid.

Needless to say, a well-managed sovcorp has a minimal capacity to compensate its employees by paying them with power, not money. This is because it has a coherent decision process, which cannot indefinitely expand the supply of decisions. It also maintains Pareto optimality, so it does not intrude on its customers' private decisions. Someone always has to be CEO, and his or her balls or ovaries will no doubt sink and become plump. But in the neocameralist world, there is a bounded supply of policy, and the bound is small.

The natural endpoint of compensation in power is pure camp-guard sadism. However, before this point is reached, an infinite number of regulations can be written. No doubt they will be.

It gets worse. Because the obvious question is: in a democracy, why do voters put up with this?

After all, at least until the democracy reaches its degenerate terminal state, there are always far more tenants who are not employees of the sovcorp than those who are. Surely the mere tenants can react, and use their democratic rights to keep their sovcorp from metastasizing endlessly in the fashion described above? But for some reason, they don't. Even when they live in a country with a long tradition and an ironclad legal guarantee of "limited government."

A simple answer is that this small problem can be solved with the easy approach of vote-buying. In other words, the democratic masses can be converted not into employees, but into creditors of the sovcorp. Of course, this creditor relationship should be kept informal - otherwise, the creditor may just sell her formal negotiable asset, and her vote will not stay bought. Ideally, the sovcorp should provide the creditor not even with money, but with services, which can be very easily withdrawn if votes are not forthcoming. This makes a mockery of Pareto optimality, but it's great for maintaining continuity of government.

However, the question remains unanswered. Men vote not for bread alone. They also vote with their hearts. And the system of democratic government, as described above, is so utterly loathsome that I can't imagine anyone being persuaded to vote for it.

Also, neohominids have collective social instincts that override their personal interests. Everyone in a modern democracy, while doing his or her little bit to go to the box and support the State, is confident that their fractional management decision is leading the sovcorp in a direction that will enhance peace, freedom and prosperity.

But if you can convince people that democracy is the cure for democide, rather than its cause, you can convince anyone of anything. Historically, democratic voters have made many decisions that they thought would lead to peace, freedom and prosperity, and instead led to war, slavery and poverty. Why should it be otherwise? I don't have a magic oracle of truth in my head. Do you? Does anyone else?

The trouble is that, while war, slavery and poverty are in general bad things, they may well be profitable for some. Especially in small doses. And if you can create a feedback loop by which Universalism causes war, slavery or poverty, but does so in such a way as to reward those who practice and promote Universalism, you have a loop that can continue indefinitely.

Take, for example, the "peace process" in Israel and Palestine. Now 60 years old and counting. How confident are you that this "peace process" is not, in fact, the cause of this similarly unending conflict? It certainly generates a very comfortable living, full of meaning and importance and not a few frequent-flier miles, for all those involved. Why shut it down?

And this, in my opinion, is why we have Universalism. We have Universalism because it is adaptive in a democratic sovcorp. Similarly, Universalism (and its ancestors) create democracy, in much the same way that they create "peace processes." The whole thing is an artifact of sovereign corporate governance gone horribly awry.

In short, the adaptive function of Universalism is to glorify and expand the modern democratic sovcorp. Of course, it has no purpose in any moral or metaphysical sense. It just exists.

Universalism is the latest, greatest incarnation of Bertrand de Jouvenel's Minotaur. It can also be seen as a perfectly distributed conspiracy, a la H.G. Wells, with no central structure at all. And finally, it provides a complete explanation of Robert Conquest's three laws of politics:
  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
In short, the thing is a menace. It's probably too late for Professor Dawkins. But perhaps it's not too late for the rest of us.